daddy’s dyin’ … orville’s rehearsin’

The last play I was in was “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Show” over the holidays. But when I first saw a notice for auditions for “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” at the Fly Arts Center, I didn’t even think about auditioning.

You see, production dates were in late September – and I was planning on taking a mission trip in early September, right when some of the most intense rehearsals would no doubt be taking place. It would simply not be possible to prepare for, and do justice to, a play and a mission trip in the same short period.

Then, last Tuesday, the mission trip got put off until some undetermined time in 2015, due to the current Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Please continue to keep the people of West Africa in your prayers.

Then, I saw a notice for one last audition for the play, this past Sunday. It was already a busy weekend for me, what with judging two chili cookoffs and attending a church ice cream social. But I figured I might at least go and try auditioning for the play.

I have gotten the part of Orville.

The play, by Del Shores, is a family comedy set in Texas. Buford Turnover (who will be played by my Times-Gazette co-worker Martin Jones, with whom I’ve worked several times before) has suffered a stroke, and isn’t expected to live long. The various family members come together, and immediately start getting on each other’s nerves and (as the play’s title indicates) looking at the impending death through the lenses of self-interest. The humor is a little like the “Mama’s Family” segments on “The Carol Burnett Show” – back-and-forth insults and over-the-top portrayals.

The play was made into a 1990 movie featuring Beau Bridges as Orville. I have not seen this, and I do not want to see it until after our production.

This will be a new experience for me. Although I haven’t read the full play, and won’t get my book until some time tomorrow, the description of Orville at the publisher’s web site, and the scenes I read during the audition, make it clear that Orville is the least-likable character I’ve ever played. He’s a redneck garbage collector, kind of mean, mean to his wife and to the other family members gathered together at their father’s bedside. Now, I believe that all of the characters get at least a little redemption as they come together at the end of the play, but this will still be quite a different experience from any role I’ve played before. It’s a good challenge for an actor.

I have to find the humanity in Orville, and the playwright is clear about the fact that he considers these to be rounded characters, not stereotypes, so hopefully he’ll give me something to work with in that regard.

There is a little language in the play – the worst thing I heard in Sunday’s excerpts was a four-letter term for excrement.

As I said, T-G printing press operator Martin Jones plays the family patriarch, Buford. Since I had only Sunday’s auditions to go by, I thought I was competing with Martin for the part of Orville. But Martin wanted the part of Buford and had already read for it extensively at the earlier auditions. I told Martin today that since I played his father in “Come Blow Your Horn,” it’s only fair that he should now take a turn playing my father.

Retired T-G editor Kay Rose is also in the play, in the part of feisty Mama Wheelis. Kay has been in a number of local theater productions but I’ve never been in a play with her before, so this will be fun as well.

Production dates are: September 19, 20, 26 & 27 at 7 p.m. and September 28 at 2 p.m. All performances will be at the Fly Arts Center, just off the square in Shelbyville. You can call 931-684-8359 or visit The Fly Arts Center Monday, Tuesday or Thursday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. for tickets.

 

The hat that was not to be

A Mountain T.O.P. friend of mine is friends with a fellow who has started a company making high-tech ball caps. There are two kinds. One runs on wafer-style batteries and has a little place on the brim where you can plug in an optional LED light. The other kind, a little more elaborate, has a built-in battery that you can charge up through a USB port and then, in turn, use to provide backup or emergency power to your smartphone or other mobile device.

The Mountain T.O.P. friend knew that I reviewed tech products for the newspaper and contacted me recently to get my name and address so that his friend could send me the hats to try out and review.

They arrived earlier in the week – and while I would normally have wanted to put them through their paces and write a proper review, I was in dire need of a topic for my tech column so I wrote something hasty basically explaining how they worked. It wasn’t a review in the traditional sense of the word, just a story.

I was happy to think about taking the backup-battery hat to Mountain T.O.P., where it would be useful for keeping my phone charged (although I also have another, relatively new, backup battery for that purpose).

Let me explain to you something about how the backup-battery hat works. There are two different pieces that store in the hat band which you use for charging up the hat. One is a male-to-male USB cable, about six inches long. The other is a little plastic dongle with flashing blue lights. It has a female USB connection on one end, and a male micro-USB connection on the other.

When I first hooked up the hat, one end of the USB cable felt a little strange. The blue lights on the dongle flashed for a long time, to the point where I finally e-mailed the hatmaker to ask how long the hat was supposed to take to charge. He gave me some suggestions, but when I went to hook the hat back up the silver piece pulled out of one end of the USB cable. That’s why it had felt loose; it was loose. I e-mailed him back and he promised to send me a replacement 6-inch cable by U.S. mail.

This morning, at the newspaper, one of my co-workers handed me an empty envelope (other than a business card) with a little hole on one end. I can only assume that some mail-handling machine had grabbed hold of the end of the envelope and squeezed out that little cable like toothpaste from a tube. In any case, there was no cable. Again, I e-mailed the hatmaker. I told him I was going to try to find a USB-to-USB cable on my own.

I e-mailed my local computer guru, a man who I know has a lot of spare parts and cables. Sure enough, he found me a long USB-to-USB cable. It wasn’t small enough to fit in a hatband, of course, but it could easily be used for charging up the hat so that I could take it to Mountain T.O.P. this weekend. I rushed over to his place and grabbed the cable. He’s going to have one of his students try to solder the original cable and see if it can be fixed.

Well, when I got home just now I tried hooking the hat back up to finish charging it. The blue lights didn’t come on at all. I didn’t know why, so I unhooked everything.

That, so help me, is when the micro-USB end of the charging dongle popped off.

I swear up and down to you I have not treated any of this equipment (some of which is suggested for use by hunters and campers) roughly or subjected it to anything out of the ordinary. And, of course, the cable being lost in the mail was out of my hands entirely. I’m not about to try to get back in touch with the hatmaker, though, because I’m sure he would assume all of this is my fault, just as I’m assuming its all his suppliers’ fault.

I still have the battery-operated hat, and I can take that one to Mountain T.O.P. and use it to read songsheets and my Bible during evening worship outdoors. But it won’t help keep my smartphone charged. (And the battery-operated hat is camouflage, not really my style.)

Oh, well.

road trip

OK. I had a really crappy first part of the week. There was a special event that I wanted to attend – and thought I deserved to be able to attend – and I couldn’t go because I couldn’t afford it. And I was primarily mad at myself, but also projected some of that anger onto a couple of innocent people who I (narcissistically) thought should have been more concerned than they were about my absence, perhaps to the point of calling me about it and getting me to admit the back story.

But if the first part of the week was a low point, this weekend more than made up for it, and exorcised the demons that had been plaguing me.

Here’s the back story:

Many years back, when my brother Michael was single and living in the Dallas area, he starred in a production of “Harvey” which, by sheer coincidence, opened on his birthday. Mom, Dad, my sister and I drove down secretly, watched the play from the back row, and then surprised him afterward. It’s been a beloved family story ever since.

Mike is now married, has two kids, and lives in Fayetteville, N.C. He’s gotten back into theater lately; he was supposed to be the lead in a big production last summer but broke his foot. This summer, he played Leonato in “Much Ado About Nothing” and also had a part in a comedy called “A Company Of Wayward Saints.” Dad wanted to go and surprise Michael again the way we surprised him in Texas. So we’d been making plans for the trip for some time, without telling anyone in North Carolina.

Then, a week or two ago, Mike called my father. My gifted nephew had gotten a chance to go to Space Camp, in Huntsville, Ala., at the last minute and at a deep discount. Mike and Kelly had decided that Kelly would drive the boy down (since Mike would be busy with the play) and then Mike would drive down a week later, after the play had closed, to pick him up. Mike asked Dad if it would be all right for Kelly and the boy to spend the night with him on Saturday, June 14.

That’s right; of all the days in the year they might call and ask to stay at Dad’s house, they picked the night when Dad, and the rest of us, planned to be in Fayetteville, N.C.

Dad covered quickly, telling Michael that he and Ms. Rachel had already made plans to go out of town that weekend (true!), but that Kelly and the boy were more than welcome to use his house while he was gone.

A few days later, we surreptitiously got in touch with Kelly and filled her in on what was really going on.

Friday, Dad, Ms. Rachel, Elecia and I got an early start and made it to Fayetteville by about 5:30. We had originally hoped to catch Michael before he left for his Friday night performance, but we missed him. When we pulled up to the house in Fayetteville, no one was home. Kelly and the kids were out shopping, and Mike was already at the theater. We returned a little later to see Kelly and the kids, while Mike was taking the stage.

Later that night, after Mike’s Friday night performance, Kelly got him to call my father and Dad revealed that we were, in fact, in Fayetteville. Mike was genuinely surprised and now says he’ll never trust any of us again.

The next morning, Kelly and the boy made a very early start for Tennessee. We spent a pleasant day seeing the sights of Fayetteville with Michael and the girl. In the afternoon, we had a little down time, and I got to relax in the Days Inn pool, which I had pretty much to myself. Then, that night, with the girl in the hands of a babysitter, we went to the play.

I found it wonderful. “A Comedy of Wayward Saints,” by George Herman, is a terrific play, and the Gilbert Theater cast, including my brother, was terrific. It starts out as a wacky comedy about a commedia dell’arte troupe trying desperately to impress a nobleman who can give them the money to get home. But in the second act, the wacky comedy gives way to a warmer but still light-hearted exploration of the nature of humanity. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This morning, we started the nine-hour drive home, arriving about 4 p.m. Shelbyville time. Kelly, meanwhile, dropped the boy off in Huntsville at noon today and then headed to Fayetteville from there – no telling if we crossed paths at some point.

It was a great trip, a great play, and a great chance to spent some time with the family over Father’s Day weekend.

a good weekend

I didn’t post about Relay yesterday because I was focusing on the video.  (I admit it. I was kind of proud of how the video turned out.)

Anyway, I think we were all pleased with how it turned out. We have not yet met our (ambitious) 2014 goal, but the Relay year runs until Aug. 31 and some of our teams still have fund-raisers planned. We had a great turnout Friday night, and everything went smoothly. There were clouds, it was breezy during our setup hours on Friday afternoon, and we worried a little about rain, but the worst we got was a couple of light sprinkles – not even enough to make you put up an umbrella. (Unfortunately, the weather forecast was enough to prevent the rock-climbing wall from arriving in the first place.

My first Relay was in 2011, and since I wasn’t a part of the county organizing committee I didn’t get there until an hour or two before opening ceremonies. That was a 12-hour Relay. My second, in 2012, was an 18-hour Relay, and I had to arrive earlier to help with setup. In both cases, I got sleepy in the wee hours of the morning but then caught a second wind and finished well. Last year, I never got that second wind, and I was groggy alll through the morning.

This year, possibly due to the first 5-Hour Energy I’ve ever consumed, but also possibly due to weight loss and more regular exercise, I did much, much better. We went back to a 12-hour format this year, so I didn’t have to stay as long as I did last year. But even taking the different schedule into account, I felt noticeably better and got to enjoy the overnight fun much more this year than last year.

Speaking of fitness, here’s the bad news. Remember that Fitbit that I thought I lost at last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration but which turned up in my car seven months later? Well, I lost it again. And I’m certain it’s not in the car; I remember having it on at Relay, thinking about how many steps I was going to register when I got home and synched it with the computer. Now, I’ll never know.

four days away

Well, we’re on the approach, and the runway lights are gleaming in the distance. It’s only four days away from the American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Shelbyville.

I know I’m excited. I hope my Facebook friends haven’t gotten too annoyed with my constant prattling about it. In part, I’ve over-posted simply because I never know, with Facebook’s algorithm, what’s actually going to be seen and what isn’t. If I’ve annoyed you the past couple of weeks, I’m deeply sorry. This is a cause that’s become very special to me in just a few years.

My mother, who had survived breast cancer years earlier, lost a brief but brutal battle with pancreatic cancer in August 2010. In 2011, my church, First United Methodist in Shelbyville, had a Relay team for the first time, inspired by several people (including my mother) who had had cancer.

I had a ball at that first Relay. I discovered that Relay was as much a festival as a charity walk, and I was hooked by the atmosphere and by Relay’s tagline, “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.”

As a result of being involved in Relay as a team member, I met Harriett Stewart, our American Cancer Society staff partner at the time, and Samantha Chamblee, who was our county organizing committee chair at the time. A couple of months later, Harriett invited me to attend an ACS function in Nashville and to do a story on the Hope Lodge. ACS operates a network of Hope Lodge facilities in cities like Nashville with larger or prominent hospitals. Out-of-town cancer patients and caregivers can stay for free at the Hope Lodge while undergoing treatment.

A few weeks after that, Harriett and Samantha came to see me at the newspaper. They asked me to serve on the county organizing committee, and I’ve been there ever since.

In 2013, and again this year, the Times-Gazette has a team. I’ve been thrilled to be a part of the team’s advance fund-raising, but on the night of Relay I won’t be wearing my “Press Power” team shirt, I’ll be wearing my sky blue committee member shirt. Officially, and in terms of any individual fund-raising, I’m a member of the committee team.

Anyway, for those of you who are in Bedford County, please drop by and see us Friday night. Come hungry. Here’s some obnoxious TV pitchman telling you about all of the food items you can purchase:

no help at all

I used to have a little booster battery for my cell phone. I think it was made by Rayovac. It worked beautifully. It was a little wider than a pack of gum. You took off the cap on one end and there was a USB connector for plugging the battery into your computer. Once the booster battery was fully charged, you took off the cap on the other end, and there was a connector that went into your cell phone (the unit actually came with several different connectors). This unit worked like a charm and was great for long trips or events when you use your phone a lot.

But the Rayovac unit eventually failed.

I knew I wanted something similar to take with me to the Relay For Life in a week and a half. I’ll be using my phone hot and heavy for photos and videos, and while I will bring along my charger, and there’s an outlet I can use at center ring, but I also wanted a booster battery, which is a more portable solution in case the phone ran out of juice at a time when I wanted to use its camera.

I got on the Walmart web site and found an attractive and reasonably-priced little unit from a company called Insten. It’s the approximate size and shape of a sleeve of Hall’s cough drops. It’s sold, not directly by Walmart, but by a third party, eForCity.com, affiliated with Walmart’s website. I ordered it, and it arrived today.

What arrived today was a gray plastic mailer. Inside the mailer was a little white box, completely unmarked except for a sticker with a bar code, item number and description.

Inside the box, in plastic bags, were the battery and the necessary cord.

There were no instructions or documentation of any kind.

Was the battery shipped fully charged or empty? What is the one button on the unit for? When I plug the battery into a USB port to charge it, I get a red light. Will the red light change to green when the unit is fully charged? Or is the unit fully charged already, and is the red light trying to tell me that?

You’re about to advise me to go to the manufacturer website and look for documentation there. Good idea. Unfortunately, the manufacturer website consists entirely of a “We’re rebuilding our website” placeholder.

I’m sure I’ll figure it all out, but it’s just kind of frustrating.

see you at … the festival

A couple of nights ago, I bought a white display board and drew a map of where the booths will be located at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, which is coming up two weeks from tomorrow.

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If you think about this, what it pretty much means is that the number of teams has been established. We’re not expecting any more teams to sign up. And each of our teams probably has a sufficient number of walkers (although I’m sure none of them would turn down additional help if it were offered).

So why, at this point, am I telling people about Relay, or asking them to attend?

Many people have no idea what Relay For Life is all about. I sure didn’t, five years ago. It’s not a running race – it’s not a race at all. And while there is an organized walking component to it, if only the registered team members, the walkers, show up on Relay night our event will be a huge disappointment.

Relay is more of a festival than a walk. Our event – and the local event in your community, if you’re one of my out-of-town friends or relatives – wants everyone to turn out on Relay night.

Here’s how it works: those teams of walkers who’ve signed up for Relay have been raising money in advance of Relay night, through team fund-raisers and/or individual solicitation. But they’ll also raise money on Relay night. Each team has a “campsite” on the Relay track. That campsite serves two functions: it’s a hangout for that team’s walkers when they’re not on the track, and it’s also a concession stand. Most teams will have some sort of food item, from hamburgers to kebabs to sno-cones to French toast.  This year, our local Relay has an “around-the-world” theme, and many teams have chosen food items associated with a particular city, state or country. Some will also have souvenirs of some sort – T-shirts or awareness ribbons or other tchotchkes. Some will have activities – a climbing wall, a big inflatable slide, or pony rides. (The Times-Gazette’s camp site will have the pony rides.)

Our local Ford dealer will be giving test drives, and donating to Relay for everyone who fills out a contact card.

In addition, there will be elements to the Relay itself that would interest anyone. We start off the evening by letting all of the cancer survivors in attendance take the first lap on the track, followed by all of the caregivers in attendance. Later, in the case of Bedford County, we’ll have a live auction, with amazing gift baskets put together by our teams.

One symbol of Relay is the luminaria, a paper bag, weighted with sand, with a little candle inside. We sell luminaria as a fund-raiser; if you donate $10 to the American Cancer Society, you can dedicate a luminaria to a cancer patient or survivor. You can write a message on the bag yourself, or if you order one online, a volunteer will inscribe the bag for you.

After dark, about 9 p.m. at our Relay, we will have what’s called the luminaria ceremony – it’s a standard part of Relay events all over the world. The luminaria will be lit shortly before 9 p.m., and then, as the ceremony begins, all of the electric lights will be turned off, so that the walking track is lit only by luminaria and torches. The luminaria ceremony incorporates music and recitations and other visual elements to recognize the impact cancer has had on all our lives – patients, caregivers, or just those of us who’ve lost a friend or family member.  The ceremony is different each year, and it’s different from community to community.

After the luminaria ceremony, many of the visiting public go home – although you certainly don’t have to. The rest of us will be up all night. In Bedford County, we have games every hour to keep walkers’ energy up in the wee hours, including a massive game of musical chairs all around the track.

We’ll also have a “Fight Back” ceremony, in which those in attendance are encouraged to take steps to prevent cancer.

Relay is a public event, and we want as many people as possible to show up and take part in the fun. Come hungry, and bring money.

If you can’t come, of course, you can participate by making a contribution to ACS in the name of a particular team or individual participant. Why, here’s a handy example.

If, as mentioned earlier, you’re from out of town, go here and plug in your zip code where it says “sign up for an event” to find a Relay event near you. (You’re not signing up for anything, just looking for the event in your neighborhood.)

Cancer hits all of us. Relay For Life is a way to hit back.

Have a great summer, kids!

Because Regan Aymett’s class will be on a field trip this coming Monday, this past Monday was my last “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” volunteer day of the school year. Since last fall, I’ve been spending an hour every Monday morning.

As much as I enjoyed the experience during the second half of the 2012-13 school year, I enjoyed it even more this year. This year, instead of splitting my time between two classrooms, I was with the same classroom for the full hour, and I got to spend the whole school year. The kids got to know me better and vice versa.

Usually, I would be working with a small group of kids, but these last two weeks – now that the big stressful testing is over with – I’ve gotten to speak to the whole class at once. Last week, I showed them photos from my five trips to Kenya, and that led to Ms. Aymett finding out about my Bad Self-Published Novel, and so this week I talked to the kids about the fact that I had written a book, which impressed them (all the more so since they hadn’t read the book in question).

Afterward, we posed for a photo:

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“Raise Your Hand” is a really rewarding program. You can tell them whether you want to tutor kids one-on-one, work with small groups or with large groups. They’ll work around your schedule (although a commitment of an hour a week is preferred). I looked forward to my time with the second graders every week, and I’ll miss it this summer. I will definitely participate in the program again next year.